Today the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, published a draft bill to increase the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years in England and Wales. The draft bill also sets out that the government “must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy”.

The draft bill is another step to show the government’s commitment to raising animal welfare standards as we leave the EU and to cement the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “As we leave the EU we will deliver a Green Brexit, not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards.”

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, commented: “The Countryside Alliance welcomes increased sentences for those guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to animals. However, we are unsure about why the Government feels it necessary to legislate that animals are sentient when the existing law already recognises this.

“Whilst the Bill has been published with good intentions our concern is that there are those who will see this as an opportunity to limit and curtail the activities of farmers and other land managers. The Government must resist any attempts to turn this from a Bill to protect animal welfare into a Bill which can be used to promote an animal rights agenda.

“We are surprised that the Bill has been published at this stage of the Brexit process. We are still waiting for the 25 year plan for the environment, and expecting a fisheries bill and agriculture bill. One of the best ways to improve animal welfare is through an improved agricultural policy to replace CAP once we are outside of the EU, and the Agriculture Bill should therefore be the priority for the Government at this time.”